On September 12, 2018, Apple will hold its second major event at the Steve Jobs Theater at the company’s new Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California. An invitation was sent out to press and other invitees with the above image and the words “gather round.” This is an allusion to Apple Park, which shares that shape. But there might be more to it.
In any case, we expect the event to focus primarily on iPhones and the Apple Watch, just like the event on the same day in the same room last year, when Apple announced the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, and Apple Watch series 3. We’ll dive deep on each possible product announcement momentarily, but first let’s talk about Apple’s general focus and strategy right now.
While last year’s iPhones have outperformed the rest of the smartphone industry, smartphone sales are not growing like they used to. A number of factors are behind this, market saturation being a major one. Apple has generally found the most success in the past by diving into developing-product categories and refining them; that’s what the company did with the iPod, iPad, iPhone, Watch, and AirPods.
Apple surely has its sights on future options for that—cars, TVs, and AR glasses possibly among them—though we don’t know which of the company’s internal experiments will actually come to market. What we do know is that Apple has been doubling down on its services business (which includes Apple News, the App Store, Apple Music, iCloud, and so on) and that the company is investing heavily in both augmented reality and machine learning.
Expect all three of those points of focus to permeate the messaging around every product Apple announces next week, just as they do the iOS 12 beta we’re currently poking around in. Machine learning drives key concepts behind both Siri and the TrueDepth camera. Augmented reality has been fundamental to most of what the company has done on mobile in the past year. And both macOS Mojave and iOS 12 infuse Apple News stories and other Apple services into new apps and parts of the user experience.
Finally, with both consumers and legislators publicly criticizing companies like Facebook and Google for user-data-based business models over the past year, Apple is trying to position itself as the privacy-friendly alternative to its competitors. Expect Apple to talk this up a lot at the event, taking every opportunity to differentiate iOS and the features of the new products from their competitors on that basis.
For example, while the company has implemented several new machine-learning-based ideas into the Photos app and Siri in iOS 12, it is very careful to tell customers, partners, and the press that it does not use customers’ private data to train and improve those features.
Now let’s review the products—both the ones we’re pretty sure we’ll see next week and the ones that are possible but far from certain.
Definite or likely announcements
These are the products we’re fairly confident will make an appearance at the show, based on our knowledge of Apple’s plans and reports from reliable insiders over the past several months.
At least two (possibly three) successors to the iPhone X
Last year, Apple announced the iPhone X, the iPhone 8, and the iPhone 8 Plus. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus iterated on the basic design the company has been using for its flagship iPhones since the iPhone 6 in 2014. That meant a significantly faster processor, new sensors for augmented reality, and support for wireless charging. The latter of those necessitated the back of the phone be made with glass, which didn’t thrill users who worry about breaking their phones.
Below: Photos showing the iPhone X design—expected to be the template for this year’s new iPhones—from our review.
The iPhone X is also made of glass, but it brought the most radical innovations to the iPhone line in years. Apple switched from an LCD display to OLED, which offers deeper blacks and better contrast ratios—and that screen stretched nearly edge-to-edge across the front of the device, providing more screen real estate for apps to work with. The iPhone X also introduced the TrueDepth camera, a front-facing 3D camera that allowed for more advanced facial-recognition features than any prior consumer phone. But that’s just the start; TrueDepth can be used for myriad other things once third-party app developers support it.
The iPhone X went on to be the world’s best-selling smartphone. So it should be no surprise that Apple is doubling down on that design in 2019. Multiple reports from Bloomberg citing sources close to Apple’s plans have said that Apple will again launch three phones at this year’s event and that every one of them will be modeled closely after the iPhone X.
iPhone X successor
One would be a direct successor—the same design as the iPhone X, with mainly a spec bump. (We’ll call that phone the iPhone XS for now, though its final name is not publicly known.) That will include Apple’s new A12 processor, which is rumored to come from Apple’s move to a 7nm process. Technologists and analysts have speculated that this could net as much as a 20-30 percent speed increase over the prior model, which was already the fastest phone we’d ever benchmarked when it arrived last year.
Not much else is known about this phone. Camera improvements are likely, and we’d be happy to see a revised version of Apple’s Face ID authentication technology that would make it recognize faces faster and more reliably. (Apple’s prior authentication, Touch ID, saw similar improvements in its second generation.) Apple’s current chief areas of aggressive development beyond that are in augmented reality, health monitoring, and machine learning, so more internal components to facilitate those are also possible.
A bigger sibling to the iPhone X successor
Apple is also reportedly working on a 6.5-inch phone based on the iPhone X template. This phone would likely be very similar to the iPhone X successor mentioned above, apart from its size, and it could carry the name iPhone XS Plus. Past Plus phones have had better cameras than their smaller siblings, so that is a possibility here. But we’re just speculating based on past differentiators in Apple’s lineup.
9to5mac cited unnamed sources who claimed that this phone will be called “the iPhone Xs Max.” Let’s hope not.
An LCD iPhone X successor
The iPhone X started at $ 1,000, and the OLED display was a major factor in that steep pricing. We expect the iPhone XS to be priced similarly to the iPhone X, but not all consumers are willing to pay that price for a phone. Guided by CEO Tim Cook, Apple’s strategy with the iPhone lineup of late has been to offer phones at a variety of price points to address as much of the market as possible—a departure from predecessor Steve Jobs’ philosophy. Expect Apple to offer phones at lower price points this year, too.
That could mean simply offering the iPhone 8 at a cheaper price than the company does currently. But reports in Bloomberg and elsewhere have suggested that Apple will introduce a third phone based on the iPhone X design but with an LCD screen instead of OLED to bring the price down. The phone would also use different materials that are cheaper to purchase and manufacture with.
The phone is expected to have the TrueDepth sensor array and Face ID, as well as the near-edge-to-edge display design of the iPhone X and the other two new iPhones this year. Curiously, the reports have said that this phone will measure at 6.1 inches—in between the 5.8 inches for the posited iPhone XS and the 6.5 inches for the iPhone XS Plus or Max.
Apple Watch series 4
Apple will almost certainly announce a new Apple Watch at this event. It will probably be called Apple Watch series 4, and its flagship feature will probably be a bigger screen. Folks who have explored the watchOS 5 beta have discovered evidence that it will have a screen resolution of 384×480 pixels, compared to 312×390 in the series 3 model. This would allow for displaying more information on the watch face at any given time. Despite the larger screen size, the watch is not expected to be significantly bigger—that’s because the expanded screen would be made possible with reduction of the bezels around said screen. Existing Watch bands will, in all likelihood, still work with the new device.
FastCompany reported that the new Apple Watch will replace the existing mechanical buttons with solid-state buttons that provide haptic feedback, similar to the home button on recent iPhones or the trackpad on recent MacBooks. The publication cited “a source with direct knowledge of Apple’s plans.” However, subsequent leaks have raised some doubts about this.
Users and critics have requested better battery life and more fitness and health-monitoring features in the new Apple Watch, and we would not be surprised to see both of these. For example, the Watch does not support sleep tracking, but some of its competitors do.